Writing A Screenplay Begins With A Thesis by Matthew Berkowitz

Film Courage: What’s your process for developing an idea?

Matthew Berkowitz, Filmmaker: That’s difficult.

Film Courage: What are you doing before you write the screenplay?

Matthew: Well, I’ll come up with an idea. Or I’ll come up with a character or I’ll come up with a theory and most of the time for me it’s like a thesis. I think that might be because I love to read so much literature and I kind of come from philosophy and I develop a thesis or something that I want to say. Then I find characters that I think can embody that purpose and that can function in a story that kind of carries this idea throughout it so I can communicate what I want to say in a story and through characters. So it always starts with an idea or a thesis or a theory that I want to talk about and the characters in the story kind of fall in line from there. Then I’ll just kind of binge watch a bunch of movies that apply and I’ll just write. I carry a little notebook around me everywhere I go because I don’t really type. I mean I type, but I don’t really write my script until I’ve handwritten it a bunch of times and a bunch of different ways and I’ve kind of flushed out my characters and only then do I write the plot because I think that at least right now in the stories that I’m trying to tell it’s the characters motivate the plot rather than the plot motivating the characters. I want to really know the characters like they are friends of mine. Like they are my best friends, my childhood friends. Once I know them, I kind of know the world. Once I know the world, I know the story…so that’s my process.

Film Courage: Interesting. Do you ever get lonely when you finish writing something because they were like your best friend? Because in a sense if it stops you’re almost losing them for a little bit?

Matthew: I’ve never really thought about it like that? After you finish a film or finish a script you’re kind of like “What now? What do I do now?” Because you’ve spent this three-month period of time every day thinking about these characters, thinking about writing and thinking about what’s next, thinking about how they say this, think about how they’d say that. So when it’s done you’re kind of like “Oh man, I don’t want it to be over yet.”

And I think it’s the same thing when you finish a film and you’re like “Oh my gosh, I’m done shooting…that’s it?” It happened so quickly. That’s why you’ve got to get into editing so you can keep it alive somehow and then by the time you’re done you’ve got this file that’s like a 120 gigabytes and it took you a year and a half to make it and you’re like “A year and a half turns into a 120 gigabyte file or a DVD?” So it’s kind of a weird sensation that you have when you’re like All this boiled down to this little thing that you can double-click in a place and you just put it in the DVD player and it plays.

But I think that’s what the whole process is, it justifies the characters that you want to write because they do get to play. They do get to be on a big screen, they do get to go someplace and other people can watch and live and experience it for two hours.

Although when you are done with the script it’s kind of over, it’s not really over because the audience gets to live through them, your audience gets to view it and it’s like the second reincarnation of your film is like having other people be touched by what you’ve made.

Questions For The Viewers: Do you always have a notepad with you to write?




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